Uses of Yang
Yang is very often used both in writing and speaking. It can mean 'the one' or 'which, who, whom', depending on the sentence.
- Yang biru itu pena saya. = The blue one is my pen.
- Lagu yang baru itu populer sekali. = The song which is new is very popular. → The new song is very popular.
To refer to a person or thing
When used to refer to a person or thing, yang replaces the word for person (orang) or the thing to which we are referring. Yang in this case means 'the one.'
- Yang berkacamata itu adalah ayah saya. = The one (person) who wears glasses is my father.
- Kamu boleh mengambil yang merah. = You can take the red one.
To say 'the person who(m) ...' or 'the thing that ...'
When used to say 'the person who(m) ...' or 'the thing that ...', yang is preceded by a noun.
- Orang yang saya lihat di jalan kemarin itu adalah Bu Yani. = The person whom I saw on the street yesterday was Bu Yani.
- E-mail yang panjang itu adalah dari temannya di Perancis. = The e-mail that is long was from his/her friend in France. → That long e-mail was from his/her friend in France.
Asking 'which (one)?'
To ask 'which?' or 'which one?' we can say yang mana?
- Rumahmu yang mana? or Yang mana rumahmu? = Which one is your house?
- Yang hijau. = The green one.
Taken from the book: A Student's Guide to Indonesian Grammar by Dwi Noverini Djenar
Thanks for this. I have a question about sentences constructed with a "what" or "who" to refer to a person or thing, such as "I donʻt know what he is thinking" or "I don't know who did it."
Would you simply use "yang" in these situations e.g. "Saya tidak tahu yang dia pikir" or "Saya tidak tahu yang lakukannya"? Or do you need to add the "apa" and "siapa" where "what" and "who" appeared in the English sentences?
Yes as simple as you said: just add 'siapa' that refers to who or 'apa' that refers to what.
I don't know what he is thinking: saya tidak tahu APA yang dia pikir, if you said with 'yang' it can be more natural if we add suffix "-kan" after the verb. So it would be "saya tidak tahu apa yang dia pikirkan"
And for the 2nd example, "I don't know who did it" can be translated as 'saya tidak tahu SIAPA YANG melakukannya" seems like double, but "yang" will refers to someone who doing the verb and we ask 'who that person is'. Take a look another example: they know who bought this cake. Mereka tahu siapa yang membeli kue ini. Or who likes candies? Siapa yang suka permen?